It’s easy to see why Jordan is a popular family destination. The wedge of land surrounded by Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories, with a small slice of coastline at the north-eastern tip of the Red Sea, is one big family playground. There are plenty of things to do in Jordan for kids, including riding camels in the desert and exploring Crusader castles.
Lawrence of Arabia’s desert to Indiana Jones’ Petra, Jordan is a natural playground. With plenty of fun in the sun, sand and mud, it’s a great spot for a family vacation. Here are some things to do in Jordan for kids.
8 Things to do in Jordan for kids
The country’s compact size and excellent roads make it easy to travel with children. What’s more, hiring a private vehicle with a driver is affordable. A typical family itinerary could include Wadi Rum, Petra, the Dead Sea and Jerash.
1- Explore Wadi Rum
The 4WD stops at the foot of the towering sand dune and a family alights.
The landscape around them is stunning, with towering rocky monoliths that rise from the desert floor.
Their Bedouin guide reminds them that this vast ochre landscape in southern Jordan is where T.E. Lawrence joined the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks.
They gaze up at the dune in awe before beginning their uphill trek while granules of orangey-pink sand ooze into their sneakers with each step they take.
Suddenly, there’s a giggle from somewhere above and a young girl comes running down the soft sand, stirring up puffs of dust behind her.
She’s followed by a couple of teenagers who sprint down the dune screaming excitedly.
Running down sand dunes is high on the list of must-do family activities at Wadi Rum but there are plenty more things to do in Jordan in the desert.
The canyons and rock bridges are intriguing to explore.
Lawrence’s Spring was once a waterhole for Bedouin caravans and older children will have fun scrambling up the rocky hill.
There’s a Bedouin tent at the foot of the hill where the young ones can play in the shade. Adults can rest cross-legged on comfortable Arabian-style cushions sipping mint tea.
Most people who visit Wadi Rum spend some time climbing the soaring cliff face at Lawrence’s spring, which lies 100m above the ground and was once a waterhole for Bedouin caravans.
If you have time, stay overnight in a Bedouin camp for a luxurious desert experience.
After touring the desert in an open-top 4WD, or on the back of a camel, dinner around the campfire is followed by singing, dancing and a night’s rest in a cosy Bedouin goat hair tent.
Staying in a Bedouin camp is a family bonding experience and one of the more memorable things to do in Jordan.
2- Float in the Dead Sea
Staying at a Dead Sea resort is as much fun as sleeping under the stars.
Despite its name, the Dead Sea is actually a lake 400m below sea level with the highest salt concentration in the world.
International resorts on the lake that cater for families by offering babysitting services, kids’ clubs and children’s pools include Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa, Kempinski Hotel Ishtar and Movenpick Resort & Spa where the Dana Children’s Activity Centre has programmes for children such as swimming, tennis and beach volleyball.
A Dead Sea salt scrub and mud wrap in Zara Spa is a blissful way to wind down and the mud is known for its healing qualities.
There’s fun in the mud for the whole family down by the lake, where everyone slathers mud over their arms, legs, bodies and faces.
They look like commandoes in bikinis and board shorts, staring across the Dead Sea towards the West Bank, a territory that has been fought over by the Palestine and Israel for half of the last century.
The buoyancy of the water makes it safe for non-swimmers and anyone who gets into the Dead Sea will bob up and down like a cork.
Another amazing experience is drifting over the desert landscape in a hot air balloon over Wadi Rum.
3- Discover Petra
Depending on the children’s ages, a good thing to do before going to Jordan is to watch “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Ben Hur”.
Of all Jordan’s treasures, Petra Archaeological Park is the jewel in the crown. What’s most amazing is that the intricate carvings in Petra Jordan were done more than two thousand years ago by the Nabataeans.
Petra’s ruins have been World Heritage-listed since 1985 and voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Seeing Petra for the first time is a wondrous experience for most, no matter what age.
Most people associate Petra in Jordan with the Treasury but the famous sight is only one of the hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs in the Petra Archaeological Park.
There’s a 1.2km walk through the Siq, a gorge that leads to the much-photographed Treasury (Al Khazneh).
There are obelisks, temples and sacrificial altars. There’s a Roman-style theatre large enough for 3,000 people and two museums.
Overlooking the valley, the Ad-Deir Monastery can be reached by climbing 800 rock-cut steps. In its heyday about 30,000 people lived in Petra Jordan, thriving on trading incense and spice, and carving these magnificent tombs and temples.
Spending one day at Petra Jordan is enough to offer a taste of its charms but you need a few days to explore the area thoroughly.
After hours of walking, I succumb to a persistent nagging of a young Bedouin boy who allows me to ride on the back of his donkey for five dinar (about $7).
The sure-footed donkey climbs the steep steps to Al Madbah (High Place of Sacrifice) where Nabataean priests made offerings to their gods and where the views over the ancient city are inspirational.
The chief Nabataean deities were Dushara, symbolized by an obelisk, the goddess Al-Uzza, symbolized by a lion, and the goddess Allat, associated with natural springs.
An old Bedouin woman sits on a rock admiring the view. As I take a seat next to her, she picks up a stone from the ground and hands it to me.
The gesture is one that sticks in my mind and the stone sits on my desk as a momento of my visit to Jordan.
Petra at Night is a ceremony that runs Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
If you have walked down the Siq in the day, the experience of walking back down again in the night to a trail of candles leads to a haunting vision of the Treasury warmly lit.
A full moon was overhead the night that I shot this photo.
Al Khazneh is instantly recognisable as the temple in the “Canyon of the Crescent Moon” where Indiana Jones finally finds the Holy Grail, only, it’s much more impressive in real life.
With 800 temples, tombs, caves, obelisks and columns carved by the Nabataeans 2000 years ago, Petra is a place where children can let their imaginations run wild and have fun pretending to be Indy while exploring the surrounds.
There’s a lot of walking involved but, fortunately, there are Bedouins everywhere offering camel and donkey rides for a few dollars.
Riding a camel in Petra is one of the best things to do in Jordan for families.
The Monastery (Al Deir) and the High Place of Sacrifice (Al Madbah) are nestled high in the hills.
An energetic teenager could manage the hike to these viewpoints or five dinars (about $7) will buy a donkey ride to the top but there’s also plenty to see without scaling Petra’s heights.
4- Visit Karak Castle
Jordan is a destination that calls to me loudly, tugging at me to bond with the land.
As I travel through the country, visiting a tapestry of ancient ruins, biblical sites and desert landscapes, the feeling of déjà vu is like a tide that ebbs and flows.
It’s a strange sensation of familiarity with names, places and things.
Even though I haven’t been here before, I feel like I know it well.
Perhaps the déjà vu is triggered by distant memories of Sunday school lessons or more recent scenes from Hollywood movies.
Nevertheless, Jordan is a country of spiritual landscapes, where prophets performed miracles, where some of the world’s oldest churches have been unearthed and where pilgrims journeyed through the desert from Jerusalem.
About half-way between Petra and the capital, Amman, leave Indiana Jones behind and enter Orlando Bloom’s “Kingdom of Heaven”.
Although Karak Castle itself was not used during filming, the movie shows scenes based in and around the castle.
The 12th-century Crusader castle sits on a hill above Karak and has dungeons and tunnels worth exploring.
5- Explore the Roman Ruins of Jerash
A one-hour drive (about 50km) to the north of Amman is the Roman city of Jerash.
In Jerash, amazing Greek and Roman ruins have been preserved from the glory days of the Greek and Roman empires.
The Cardo Maximus is the main cobbled avenue from the Forum to many of the amazing buildings and arches that many tourists are drawn to.
General Pompey conquered Jerash in 63 BC, making it one of the 10 great Roman cities of the Decapolis, the federation of key Roman cities.
The ruins are fun to explore and children will love the twice-daily shows that conjure scenes from Ben Hur.
Sword-toting legionnaires with helmets javelins march through the city; gladiators fight to the death; and chariots thunder around the Hippodrome.
Visiting Jerash, the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum leaves no doubt that Jordan offers a captivating holiday for families.
Don’t be surprised if Jordan appeals to the child in you.
6- Discover Madaba
A short drive to Madaba brings me to the Greek Orthodox Church of St George.
The church houses a 6th-century floor mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The map covers a section of the church’s floor and is the oldest known map of the area.
Madaba is called the “City of Mosaics” because of the hundreds of mosaics dating back to the 5th to the 7th centuries scattered through Madaba’s churches and homes.
Fortunately, the craft is being kept alive at the Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration, which is a government funded operation that trains artisans in the art of making, repairing and restoring mosaics.
7- Hike Dana Biosphere Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve is unique in Jordan for its four different bio-geographical zones – Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian.
Home to 800 species of plants and 449 animal species, Dana Biosphere Reserve is a place in Jordan you’ll want to visit if you’re interested in nature.
Most interesting is this reserve is home to 25 endangered species, including the Sand Cat, Syrian Wolf, Lesser Kestrel and the Spiny Tailed Lizard.
Feynan Ecolodge is a brilliant example of world-class accommodation that is environmentally sustainable, socially responsible and profitable.
The surrounding area is awesome for hiking and exploring.
A local treat at the lodge is the food, which is prepared by the local nomadic Bedouins for exchange for money and goods.
8- Explore Amman
Jordan’s capital, Amman, is a big city with lots of city distractions.
One of my favourite experiences is watching the sunrise over the rooftops of Amman.
Another experience I really enjoy is drinking cardamom coffee in a local coffee shop.